Tom Richmond: How Ed Balls bravely gives voice to struggle with stammer

Ed Balls on the Strictly Come Dancing red carpet.
Ed Balls on the Strictly Come Dancing red carpet.

IT is often the case that politicians are far more candid when they have left office and have a book to sell, and Ed Balls looks set to continue this trend with his memoir Speaking Out.

You remember those stories that the Treasury was slow to react to the collapse of Northern Rock, and which were strenuously denied at the time? It turns out they were true according to serialisations of this mea culpa.

You remember Ed Miliband’s fateful pre-election party conference speech in 2014 when he forget to mention the deficit or immigration? It turns out the then Shadow Chancellor was left flabbergasted by these omissions while praising his leader’s vision (through gritted teeth) for a “fairer, stronger economy” in public.

You remember those eve-of-election media stories, dismissed at the time, that the two Eds – Miliband and Balls – were barely on speaking terms? Again, they were all true – to the point that the pair spoke just twice during the campaign and struggled to exchange a few gracious words on the telephone when Labour’s defeat was confirmed.

At least voters saw through these sleights of hand which show why it is unwise of senior politicians to treat the public as fools – the electorate might have been more forgiving if Labour had shown some humility on occasion.

However Mr Balls, who clearly did not foresee his shock defeat in Morley and Outwood until the BBC’s David Dimbleby questioned him several hours before the result was declared, does deserve enormous praise for being so candid about his stammer – and how he came to terms with this speech impediment.

For such a renowned political bruiser, there was clearly a vulnerability to this big-hitter who is now limbering up for an unlikely appearance on Strictly Come Dancing – which he might regret if Tory opponents mischievously prolong his agony by voting to keep him on the show.

It clearly hurt that he was given the nickname ‘Blinky Balls’ by Conservative Central Office, supposedly at the instigation of David Cameron – who should have known better – when he became tongue-tied during TV interviews or appearances in the Commons.

However I suspect the most hurtful criticism came from the late Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody when the Yorkshire MP was Education Secretary in Gordon Brown’s government. After one difficult appearance at the despatch box, she was heard mumbling rather loudly: “He’s supposed to be the Secretary of State and he can’t even get his words out.”

Yet, as Mr Balls sought professional advice, the turning point came when he was literally lost for words at the launch of a DVD in which children talked movingly about their own stammering.

A man came up to the Minister: “Can I just ask you do you have a stammer yourself?”

“It’s not really about me today, it’s about the children,” said a defensive Mr Balls.

Then this withering reply: “My son is one of the kids in that video, and what he’s done there speaking about his stammer is really brave. And I think you’re a coward by not doing the same.”

Harsh words which “mortified” Mr Balls, he took them to heart and became far more forthcoming about his speech impediment as he started using his position of influence to champion the work of the acclaimed Leeds Stammering Support Centre and other similar causes.

This should not be overlooked. For, while many will, rightly, question the economic judgement and record of Mr Balls and his cohorts, he should be applauded for having the courage to speak out – it’s just a shame that politics is now such a dirty business that there’s no tolerance of human frailties like this.

Hopefully this, rather than his dance moves on Strictly, will be the legacy of Ed Balls – I, for one, hope we haven’t heard the last of him.

MICHAEL Henderson, The Times’s cricket writer, clearly went to Scarborough intent on doing a hatchet job when he wrote about the resort’s “putrid pubs”, joyless “entertainment” halls and existence of tattoo parlours.

Clearly oblivious to the fact that Scarborough is enjoying a surge in staycations, he would have found a charming resort if he had taken the trouble to seek out those hostelries and hotels providing the very warmest of welcomes.

His portrayal is an insult to all those working tirelessly to ensure that Yorkshire’s coastal resorts can prosper despite significant economic challenges and hardships – not least sub-standard roads and transport links.

SHAMEFUL and shameless. I refer to the 24 per cent pay rises that David Cameron awarded to special advisers months before they became entitled to super-inflated severance packages when their boss resigned after the EU referendum.

Given the increases were as much as £18,000, at a time when public sector pay rises were being capped at one per cent, one should have assumed that the country was getting the very best 
political intellects for these inflated amounts.

Not a bit of it. These are the advisers who totally misread the public mood over the EU referendum and, specifically, the exasperation of low-paid people from working class backgrounds who did not understand the potential benefits of globalisation when they were being undercut by economic migrants.

Severance packages? I think the Treasury should be asking for reimbursements instead.

GIVEN David Cameron awarded a 
CBE to Remain campaign chief Will Straw for losing the EU referendum, does it follow that Team GB’s gold medal-winning Olympians and Paralympians will receive knighthoods or damehoods – or is this disparity conclusive evidence that politicians should be allowed no further say over the awarding of honours?

AFTER the success of Team GB’s success at Rio when the world record-breaking swimming superstar Adam Peaty became this country’s first male champion since Yorkshire’s very own Adrian Moorhouse in 1988, the Government is getting a kicking for a sharp decline in the number of youngsters learning to swim. Sorry, why is this the fault of Ministers – or those schools who have cut back on sport? It is surely the first duty of parents to make sure their children are safe in the water... or am I wrong?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk